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30th AU summit: PSC members elected by consensus
12 February 2018

At the 30th African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, the Executive Council of Ministers, on 26 January 2018, elected 10 new members for a two-year term to the Peace and Security Council (PSC). They were: Morocco (North Africa); Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia (West Africa); Djibouti, Rwanda (East Africa); Gabon, Equatorial Guinea (Central Africa); and Angola and Zimbabwe (Southern Africa). These elections went without much debate after the withdrawal of candidates such as Algeria and Ethiopia. The configuration of the new PSC will have profound implications for the issues discussed, and shows an enhanced consultation process at regional level.

At the January 2018 elections of the new PSC members, none of the seats was contested. That followed Algeria’s withdrawal of its candidature for the one seat available for North Africa, leaving Morocco as the only candidate. Ethiopia also withdrew its candidature, leaving only two candidates for the two open seats for East Africa. Another AU heavyweight, South Africa, did not throw its hat into the ring either, leaving the two open seats to Angola and Zimbabwe.

With time, AU member states therefore seem to have found consensual methods of rotating membership of the main decision-making body of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). What does this mean for the organisation?

The withdrawal of Algeria and South Africa from the PSC might reflect the uncertainty both countries face domestically. In a way, it also attests to the fact that these two continental powers do not feel the need to be on the PSC in order to exert influence in the AU, since they remain major financial contributors to the organisation.

The withdrawal of Algeria and South Africa from the PSC might reflect the uncertainty both countries face domestically
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Angola and Zimbabwe are back on the council for only their second term since the establishment of the PSC. Both countries experienced changes of power last year and it remains to be seen what foreign policy positions the two new leaders, Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe and João Lourenço in Angola, intend to pursue at the continental level.

Morocco’s entry into the PSC, one year after its accession to the AU, is the major event of this election. While it illustrates its growing diplomatic clout on the continent, the challenge will be to show that the North African kingdom is not a single-issue member state. Indeed, Morocco was elected with 39 votes, facing 16 abstentions, despite being the sole contender for the open seat in North Africa. This shows that its return to the AU in January 2017 remains a sore point with some member states.

The anti-UN Security Council

Two years ago, the PSC Report in its analysis of the new PSC, speculated whether the body was morphing into an ‘African UN Security Council’. This was because regional powers, notably South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria, were serving long and barely interrupted mandates on the council. In January 2018 this no longer applies, as these powers have shown themselves willing to leave the PSC in favour of rotation within their respective regions, and to allow all parties to the PSC Protocol to become a member at one time or another.

While it is unsure whether this practice fits into the spirit of article 5.2 of the protocol – which sets certain criteria for prospective PSC member states, such as sufficient diplomatic capacity to handle the position – it reveals the enhanced consultation within regions on their representation in the PSC.

Enhanced dialogue at the regional level

ECOWAS has ruled that Nigeria should occupy the three-year seat for West Africa on a permanent basis
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West, Central and Southern Africa chose their candidates based on an alphabetical rotation, without contestation in their ranks. In West Africa, the rule is to allow outgoing members to contest consecutive second terms based on the alphabetical rotation. Liberia was given priority because it had ratified the PSC Protocol in 2017 and was seeking a seat for the first time. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ruled that Nigeria should occupy the three-year seat for West Africa on a permanent basis.

In East Africa, the candidacies of Djibouti and Rwanda resulted from consensus. In North Africa, Algeria invoked the principle of rotation within the region to withdraw its candidacy and allow Morocco to be the only candidate for the two-year seat on the PSC. Except for 2013–2016, Algeria has been a PSC member since 2004.

In Central Africa, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea replaced Chad and Burundi. As the only member of both the UN Security Council and the PSC, Equatorial Guinea will play a critical coordination role between the two bodies; especially in a year when the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is likely to be high on the PSC’s agenda.

As the only member of both the UN Security Council and the PSC, Equatorial Guinea will play a critical coordination role
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The regionalisation of APSA continues

The reversal of the decision by PSC ambassadors to send a protection force to Burundi in early 2016 saw the PSC taking a backseat in managing crises, in favour of regional initiatives. This regionalisation of APSA, with the principle of subsidiarity being invoked by regions, is expected to continue in 2018.

This issue is especially critical for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as few of the crises in this region have made it onto the agenda of the PSC in the last few years, other than the DRC. The DRC and the Great Lakes region accounted for 21% of the discussions on specific crises in 2017.

SADC has handled the political crises in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho with little interaction between the regional body and the PSC. Will the new member states on the PSC promote a strict observance of the subsidiary principle or will they encourage more delegation at the AU level, especially in a context where the Southern region is perceived to be reticent about the AU’s institutional reform?

SADC has handled the political crises in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho with little interaction between itself and the PSC
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In West and North Africa, just as the G5 Sahel Joint Force is starting its operations, no country from the Sahelo-Saharan strip is represented on the PSC. With the withdrawal of Algeria, none of the countries directly affected by – or involved in – the crisis in Mali will be on the council for the next year. The situation is almost similar in the Lake Chad region, where only Nigeria remains in the PSC. It will be critical to see how consultations between the PSC and the Permanent Representatives Committee in Addis Ababa will function in this case to ensure that the body remains committed to these crises.

A less interventionist PSC?

In 2016 the newly elected PSC began its mandate on the heels of the AU heads of state and government’s reversal of the decision on Burundi. Back then, the new PSC was perceived by many observers as more conservative and dominated by authoritarian regimes. During the following two years, these features saw the PSC delegating crisis management to regional mechanisms, with the exception of Somalia, owing to the presence of the 22 000 troops of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

It is unlikely that this trend will be reversed with the 10 new members. Indicators on democracy, human rights and governance, and peacekeeping operations reveal a declining trend in the number of democracies from the previous PSC to the one that has just been elected. Based on Freedom House’s reports, the average score for political freedom in countries represented on the PSC dropped from 44,33 in January 2016 to 36,33 in 2018.

The trend is similar, with a slightly smaller drop, if one looks at the Ibrahim Index of African Governance reports of 2015 and 2017. The average score of the elected PSC in 2016 was 53,42, against 50,42 for the one elected this January. The exit of South Africa and Botswana – respectively 73 and 74.3 – from the PSC contributes to the decline of the overall governance score of PSC members.

The exit of South Africa and Botswana from the PSC contributes to the decline of the governance score of PSC members
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In the area of contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, there is a slight decline as well. In 2016 incoming members of the PSC deployed an average of 1 574 troops in UN peacekeeping operations. Rwanda, Egypt, Nigeria and Niger were leading in terms of contributions. In 2018 this average dropped to 1 067.

This figure does not take into account contributions to Africa-led peace-support operations (PSOs) such as AMISOM, the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram and the G5 Sahel Force. However, all three of these PSOs are composed of troops from countries neighbouring the epicentre of the crisis.

The aforementioned benchmarks lead to questions about how the incoming member states will address governance-related crises on the continent, and to what extent they will be willing to deploy troops beyond their immediate neighbourhood.

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